Brandt Snedeker waits and wins, Torrey Pines becomes a wind chamber, Jordan Spieth completes his fortnight abroad, Ryan Ruffels cashes in and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
Sure, Brandt Snedeker needed a lot of help to win the Farmers Insurance Open.
He needed the cut line to hold at 1 under. He needed treacherous, final-round conditions to keep the leaders in check. He needed a remarkable round to give himself a chance. And then on Monday, when play resumed and the final group had eight holes remaining, he needed the wind to switch directions and limit the number of birdie opportunities coming home.
“It kind of fell in line perfectly,” he said.
But that doesn’t make this title any less sweet.
Snedeker isn’t often mentioned as one of the game’s elite players, perhaps because he’s not a basher off the tee, a preeminent ball-striker or a flashy 20-something. But one of his greatest (and most surprising) qualities is his toughness, which helps explain why half of his eight PGA Tour titles have come when he trailed by five or more shots heading into the final round.
This victory – after watching and waiting nearly 24 hours, after having everything fall in line – may have been his most impressive.
1. Snedeker was giving an interview outside the scoring area Sunday when the horn sounded for the third and final time. He groaned.
“I want them to be out there going through the misery that I had to go through,” he said.
At the time, Snedeker’s point was well-taken. Tour officials would only send out players when the conditions were more favorable, which, in theory, would give them a better opportunity to post a score lower than Snedeker’s 6-under 282.
Turns out it was Sneds who got the lucky break.
On Monday, the wind wasn’t as fierce but it came out of a different, more difficult direction. The last eight holes played predominantly into the wind; three times K.J. Choi hit driver-3 wood into a par 4 and came up short. On Sunday afternoon, that same stretch played downwind or from the left, allowing Snedeker to hit five drives of 300-plus yards.
In the end, that was the difference between him winning and coming up just short.
2. The ultimate measure of a great round is how it compares to the field average that day.
It's worth noting that Snedeker's closing 69 at Torrey Pines was 9.119 strokes better than field average when play was called for the day Sunday. He described it as "playing a British Open on a U.S. Open setup."
When all 71 players had finished, his round was nearly nine shots better than the field average (77.903).
Viewed another way:
- There were two rounds of par or better
- There were 23 (!) rounds of 80 or worse
"I couldn't do it again," Snedeker said afterward. "I don't know how I did it."
3. For the sake of comparison, these were the top five rounds of 2015 in terms of best score versus the field, according to stats guru Mark Broadie:
- J.B. Holmes, 62 in Round 1 at Doral (11.4 strokes better than the field)
- Rory McIlroy, 61 in Round 3 at Quail Hollow (10.2)
- Hiroshi Iwata, 63 in Round 2 at Whistling Straits (9.9)
- Charley Hoffman, 67 in Round 1 at TPC San Antonio (9.7)
- Jordan Spieth, 63 in Round 1 at Augusta National (9.4)
4. Just how nasty was it for players? The final-round scoring average (5.9 strokes over par) was the second-most difficult non-major round on Tour in the past 25 years.
The only round tougher: The third round of the 1999 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which averaged 7.38 strokes over par.
Tweeted Shane Lowry, who grew up with plenty of wicked weather playing amateur golf in Ireland:
That score by @BrandtSnedeker is probably one of the best scores I've seen.— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) January 31, 2016
5. The mission, under normal circumstances, was straightforward: Play the last eight holes in even par to win.
Except Jimmy Walker soon realized it wouldn’t be quite that simple.
His first tee shot Monday hooked way left, leading to a bogey, and he dropped three more shots coming home while playing into a penal wind.
“We got out there and all of a sudden the wind started blowing again,” Walker said. “It would have been nice to play the last couple of holes downwind.”
6. There is no way to sugarcoat this: The final round at Torrey Pines was an unmitigated disaster for Scott Brown.
Tied for the 54-hole lead with K.J. Choi, Brown shot a career-worst, 15-over 87 and plummeted to a T-49 finish. It’s the highest final-round score by a leader in the last 10 years (by five shots!).
Brown made 11 bogeys and two doubles. Before his par on the last, he had dropped at least one shot on 11 consecutive holes.
7. What to make of Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson’s early exit at Torrey Pines? Each case should be examined differently.
Level of concern: Extremely low
Day’s caddie Colin Swatton said Day had great practice sessions in Palm Springs as he geared up for his title defense. Then he and his family caught the flu. He made two trips to the hospital on Tuesday and picked up a club for the first time in five days an hour before his Thursday tee time. His only worry now: a lack of competitive reps heading into Augusta.
Level of concern: Extremely low
Because of his sponsorship deal with Farmers, Fowler flew 17 hours across 12 time zones after an impressive victory in Abu Dhabi. Once play started, he was far from the only player who struggled on the bumpy seaside poa annua greens. He’ll be just fine.
Level of concern: Low
Torrey was his first tournament in two months, and he wasn't particularly sharp from tee to green. Then again, he doesn't have a top-20 finish at Torrey in seven tries. Why doesn't he begin his year elsewhere?
Level of concern: Medium-Low
His Friday 76 on the North Course came out of nowhere; in 26 prior rounds, he averaged 68.77 and had only one over-par score (73). It continued the strained relationship between Lefty and his hometown event, which he has won three times but not in the past 15 years. The South Course was renovated in 2003 by Rees Jones, who wanted to beef up the course in advance of the U.S. Open; Phil has seriously contended there only once since. Throw in his failed bid to redo the North Course – he was a victim of head-scratching politics – and you get the sense that all of those warm, fuzzy feelings are gone. This week’s Phoenix Open – another event in which Mickelson has enjoyed success – should serve as a more accurate barometer of his uneven game.
8. Jordan Spieth’s first visit to Singapore turned out to be much more extensive than a simple brand-building trip.
His agent doubled as his caddie. Multiple weather delays led to early mornings and long days. And finally, on Sunday, while lining up a make-or-break 5-footer on the last, the horn blew for the final time. Spieth couldn’t hide his disgust as he walked off the green, knowing that it meant another night in Singapore – and one less night at home, before he continues his busy early-season schedule at Pebble Beach and Riviera.
Despite earning some extra cash for the trip to Singapore – and it was reported that he received a $1.3 million appearance fee – Spieth admitted that his world tour came at a cost.
"What I've learned," he said, "is that I won't bounce back and forth from the States over here as often as I did. It's just tough."
At 22, he's already ahead of the learning curve. As usual.
9. Perhaps, in retrospect, Dustin Johnson’s curious trend of weekend retreats started at the U.S. Open, where he handed the title to Spieth with a three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd hole.
Is there scar tissue?
- Because in his next start, at the Open Championship, where he held the halfway lead, he closed with back-to-back rounds of 75.
- Because in his next start, at the WGC-Bridgestone, where he was tied for second heading into the weekend, he went 75-76 and disappeared.
- Because at the end of the year, at the World Challenge, where he was four shots behind, he played the weekend in only 1 under and got lapped.
- And because it happened again last week, at Torrey Pines, where he trailed by one, and then blew up with rounds of 74-80.
DJ’s reputation as a closer is getting even shakier after these bizarre backtracks.
10. Jim Furyk has finally relented and undergone surgery on his ailing left wrist. It’s an issue that has bothered him since September, though he was optimistic that his wrist would heal without going under the knife. Not so, apparently.
The three-month timetable for a recovery puts Furyk’s appearance at the Masters in jeopardy – he hasn’t missed the year’s first major since 2004 – as well as his title defense at the RBC Heritage, his only victory in the past six years.
Alas, it’s already shaping up as a possible lost year for the soon-to-be 46-year-old.
11. Branden Grace offered yet another reminder last week that a major breakthrough could be imminent.
Grace, who had top-20s at the final three majors last year, including a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open after sharing the lead on the 70th hole, earned his seventh career European Tour title in Qatar. Only Rory McIlroy, with 12, has more Euro Tour titles under the age of 30.
The biggest improvement in Grace’s game is his consistency. He missed only two cuts all last year and now has run off six consecutive top-10s worldwide. If he keeps this up, he won’t even be considered a sleeper for the majors.
12. So it seems Stacy Lewis’ new year is off to a familiar start – with a close call.
Winless in the past 18 months, the top-ranked American in the world tied for second in the Bahamas to record her NINTH runner-up finish since her last victory.
As much as Lewis might try to put a positive spin on another near miss – “I just feel things are in a better place” – it’s a maddening stretch of golf for one of the game's fieriest competitors.
13. Paula Creamer revealed last week that she has shaken up her team for the first time in more than a decade, hiring Gary Gilchrist to look after her swing. It’s a major change but also a much-needed one, her game having gone stale after winning just once since her breakthrough U.S. Open title in 2010. It remains to be seen whether she still has the talent and drive to keep pace with the world’s best, but at least Creamer is willing to take a risk in hopes that it rejuvenates her game. Her season began with a T-5 in the Bahamas, so maybe her arrow is pointing up again.
Last week, Phil Mickelson was asked an innocent question about Ryan Ruffels, the 17-year-old Australian phenom who was making his pro debut at Torrey Pines.
“You’ve been such an inspiration for younger players,” the reporter started. “Talk about Ryan Ruffels and your relationship with him.”
That’s it. It was a softball question.
Mickelson could have taken the high road. He could have discussed how much talent the kid has. He could have said how excited he was to see his career progression. Instead, he lashed out, because of an article that appeared recently in an Australian newspaper, a cute story in which Ruffels said that he received 2-to-1 odds against Lefty, birdied six of the last seven holes and won $5,000.
That Lefty chastised the young player for embellishing details of the bet – “high school stuff” – was likely less about the wager itself and more because it unintentionally suggested that Phil’s brother, Tim, the head coach at Arizona State, might have committed an NCAA violation.
Both sides were at fault here, the veteran and rookie:
Mickelson should have handled the situation differently, approaching Ruffels in the locker room to discuss the story instead of publicly shaming the kid and becoming a top headline.
And Ruffels shouldn’t have disclosed the amount to a reporter – that's one of golf’s unwritten rules, though, to be fair, it's also a rule with which he likely was unfamiliar because Ruffels is, well, of high school age.
It's safe to say the kid won't make that mistake again. And by the way, he earned more than $20,000 in his pro debut.
This week's award winners ...
This Week in PGA Tour Politics: Thomas Pieters' hair. Camp Ponte Vedra's "vender" overcropped the 24-year-old Belgian's moptop, which was apparently too unruly for Tour standards. The Tour did offer a funny kicker, though: "We think he has a great head of hair."
Not Just a Trick-Shot Artist: Wesley Bryan. Yes, he can hit drives, chips and putts toward normal targets, too. He tied for seventh in the Web.com Tour’s season opener.
Albatross Alert: Jason Gore and Ha Na Jang. Gore’s came on the par-5 18th hole at Torrey Pines, while Jang’s was even more impressive – holing her 3-wood tee shot on the 218-yard eighth hole at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island, the first 1 on a par 4 in LPGA history. Great reaction, too:
Sent to the DL: Michael Greller. Jordan Spieth's caddie tweaked his ankle while dropping into a bunker at Tiger's tournament in December and reaggravated the injury on the hilly terrain at Kapalua. He was diagnosed with a second-degree ankle sprain, according to Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte, and hopes to return for the Pebble-Riviera double dip. Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, filled in for Greller in Singapore.
Fun with Rankings: Jason Day/Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed/Branden Grace. No. 2 Day missed the cut at Torrey Pines and fell behind McIlroy, who was idle. Reed withdrew after the third round and moved to No. 9, while Grace won for the seventh time in his European Tour career and remained at No. 11.
It's Good to Be No. 1: Lydia Ko. The 17-year-old posted last week that Lexus sent her a RC F Sports Coupe, a car valued at $75,000. It's her first vehicle. Mine was a 2002 Nissan 200SX with 75,000 miles that literally imploded three years later.
Rotten Luck: Ollie Schniederjans' final round. The former No. 1-ranked amateur was inside the top 30 and on pace to pick up some much-needed FedEx Cup points with only two more sponsor exemptions remaining this season. Instead, he played in the worst of the conditions, shot 81 and crashed to T-49.
Random Thought of the Week: Why did fans even bother to show up Sunday at Torrey? The forecast called for cold temperatures, howling winds and blinding rain, and, yep, that's exactly what happened, along with significant tree damage.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bill Haas. He had missed only one cut in 11 tries at Torrey Pines, and that was 10 years ago. He had top-20s five of the past seven years, and he was coming off a T-9 in Palm Springs. Sigh.